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Hurricanes: Scout’s persistance identifies evacuation zones

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

An Eagle Scout project has provided residents of Georgetown County with a ready means of determining their level of risk from storm surge during a hurricane.

Bobby Walters, son of Alan and Susan Walters and a member of Troop 360 at St. Paul’s Waccamaw United Methodist Church, has completed his project to put “Know Your Zone” bands on every street sign post in areas that could flood when the next hurricane strikes.

Georgetown County emergency management director Sam Hodge proposed the idea as an Eagle Scout project after hurricane preparedness operations changed focus from wind speed to storm surge. Walters said his father, a former law enforcement officer and magistrate who is now head of security for the county schools, thought it sounded like a good idea. He didn’t realize it would take three years to complete the work of putting 861 markers on the county’s street signs in areas deemed red, yellow and orange to indicate the level of flood danger. On the Waccamaw Neck, all areas east of Highway 17 and near the river are red with everything else yellow. Georgetown has some areas of red and yellow with orange danger zones extending to Yauhannah and Plantersville. Only a small area in the western end of the county is safe from flooding.

“I would have built a park bench if I could,” Walters said. “Once I got into it, I couldn’t go back. I had raised a bunch of money.”

Walters said his original idea in 2012 was to put the colored bands on stop signs in the flood zones, but the state Department of Transportation wouldn’t allow it and suggested getting permission for street signs. “Once I started mapping and saw how many street signs there were, it was discouraging,” he said. The street sign bands turned out to be less expensive and more durable. “It actually worked out better,” Walters said. He put the red, yellow and orange bands near the top of the poles along with a letter A, B or C to help residents identify their zone if the colors fade.

“I didn’t realize how much there would be in the yellow zone, pretty much the entire county,” Walters said. “There’s not that much difference in impact between the two sides of Highway 17.”

Walters said he got help from Hodge and county emergency management personnel with the mapping, and his fellow Boy Scouts and father helped him finish before his deadline, his 18th birthday. Scoutmaster Jason Meares of Troop 360 said Walters is a model Scout. “This was a huge project to help the community,” he said. “That’s what we look for in projects.”

Hodge said Georgetown is the first county in the state with Know Your Zone markers. “I knew Bobby was looking for an Eagle Scout project that was challenging,” Hodge said. “There are a lot of projects you can do. Give him credit.”

Hodge said the county needed to educate residents about flood zones as the first step in its hurricane evacuation plan. “It all starts with the zone you live in,” he said. “Just look for the band on your street sign. Hopefully, this will become an everyday way of life for people to ride down the road and see their zone. It’s definitely helped us out tremendously.”

Walters said the 140-hour project gave him an appreciation of the county’s size and its vulnerability to flooding. “I can’t look at a street sign the same way now,” he said.

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